The Arizona Cardinals have known for most of the summer that they would face a New England Patriots team without Tom Brady in their season-opener. What they didn't expect was that the Patriots would also be without Brady's most reliable target in tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Friday afternoon, NFL Network reporter Courtney Fallon broke the news that Gronkowski would not play in Sunday's matchup against the Cardinals after multiple outlets reported that Gronkowski did not travel on the team's flight to Arizona.
Gronkowski is still listed as questionable on the Patriots' injury report, but Gronkowski said earlier this week he's battling a hamstring injury that he and the Patriots will now evaluate on a week-by-week basis.
The personnel loss is significant for New England, considering Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher acknowledged this week how difficult it is to game plan against the NFL's top tight end and one of the league's most dangerous offensive weapons.
Gronkowski has recorded at least 10 touchdown receptions in every full season he's played since 2010, while the former Arizona Wildcat has seen his production skyrocket over the past two seasons as he notched at least 72 receptions and more than 1,100 yards in 2015 and 2016.
Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal first reported earlier in the day that Gronkowski, left tackle Nate Solder and former Arizona Cardinals' right guard Jonathan Cooper were not on the team's flight to Arizona.
The losses of Solder and Cooper further complicates matters for first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo who will need all the protection he can get against a Cardinals' defensive front that boasts former Patriots sack-leader Chandler Jones.
Without Brady, Cooper, Gronkowski, Solder and starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich who is serving a four-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance, the Patriots are entering what was anticipated to be one of the premier heavyweight battles of week one without a large number of their most important contributors.